Epic poetry from David Cicerone



For Alex Duplain

* * * * * * *

‘Solo y herido, así me dejas,
Sabiendo que mañana irás
con otro al altar’


There is a place in life for faith but that place is not in the mind
Security is whatever you get when you’ve outrun your memories,
& redemption only comes when you’ve been damned by what you can’t live down—
But the voice of conscience is as hard to hear as it is to kill
Love is whatever it takes to outlive your regrets,
& when the soul’s as timeless as its absence the heart’s as good as the last place it left

For in Cartagena I was threatened with my head by gangland pawns whose barked commands to pay in blood or money sounded rehearsed enough for the Norwegians and I to bolt to the ocean in full confidence that there was no real menace, only for their leader to ambush our hovel with a pistol three days later demanding hundreds of thousands in ransom for an associate of ours his boys had plucked off the street and held bound and gagged in a minivan which us ashen-faced rubes tried to collect from sympathetic friends but in the end had no other choice than to pony up ourselves
And in Medellín as twisted revenge for the student-anarchist crackdown our taxi driver played slalom with the riot shields at a speed fit to ignite terror in anyone
And in Bogotá the coffee farmer dressed his kneecaps and left elbow in a balm thick enough to conceal the freshly inked smiley-faces, having delayed the forearm winking frown until the morrow because he “just couldn’t get four tattoos in a single day from a one-eyed mechanic”
And in Villa de Leyva I fought through grimy boulevards, thatched-roof shanties and identically dressed families of seventeen just to scratch myself raw from bedbugs and take in animated custody battles between the owner of the flophouse and her most unfortunate favorite mistake

And in Barichara we pelted mountain goats with packets of gunpowder
And in Bucaramanga the Chilean came in with shaved eyebrows and makeshift potato-sack pants, who as victim of a love-drug drink beating had taken a cane to the forehead and been rolled in coal, but was not bitter, and though comforted with hot tea and a bowl of jellybeans his robbery trauma and incomprehensible rules made it all but impossible to complete a round of billiards
And in Guatapé
there were onions, thunderstorms and three-legged dogs
And in Armenia the shopkeepers gazed at me as if recognizing Christ
And in Salento drunks were driven from cafés by potbellied vigilantes, sprung through shattered windows by electric shocks to the collarbones and shouts of approval heard from every end of town
And in Buga there was about as much action as you’d expect in a town regularly lauded as a ‘fixture on the religious tourism circuit’
And in Cali priests in blackface played taps at sunrise on silver horns, from marble balustrades
And in
Popayán our chaperone at the smoky local saloon was a decrepit grunting barrel of a wino whose overseer presence, hero complex, delusional ravings and silver ear hair we tolerated not only because he funded repeated rounds of aguadiente but because he’d drawn a blade on a gruff crew of mutiny-eyed knaves who’d tried to run the 800-peso quart of rum scam on us stupid foreigners, only for his hospitality to be rewarded with a flying elbow to the mandible when the Anglophile and the native Argentine came to fisticuffs over the Falklands
And in San
Agustín my amorous embarrassments were confined to this haiku:
Colombian night
the cockroach is in her room
and I am not

And in Mocoa I was tired enough of cities to spend four afternoons redefining the wasted day alone in the sun, ostensibly because it was time for rest and respite from the dangers of the road I’d chosen but in hindsight to reassure myself I was still God
And from Pasto the ride to the border was the kind of nightmare that turns a man into an insomniac—
and then at customs they wouldn’t let me through until I’d proven to them that I was indeed an actual musician and not just bringing the dobro along as a decoy, so after rubbing their ears against the wood, playing dashboard drums on the steel and conferring at length in devious whispers the agents thrust it into my hands and bid me to serenade them, and after all that it took but half a bar of blues for them to nod their heads and wave me along without even checking my bag

Colombia, give me some of you!
Colombia, come to me the way I came to you,
Locombia, you land of thieves and phantoms…

And in Otavalo three hundred spoon-clickers, shinebox bashers, coffin swatters, cauldron wobblers, cannon rollers, cutlass clangers, mushroom jugglers, expert marksmen, test-tube chimers, jawbone stompers, slingshot harpists, syphilitic whistlers, fire-breathing throat-singers, crippled clappers, shattered scatters and birdcage rattlers swirled around a bearded glass-eyed elder with a silver charango, as nymphs in feathered masks leapt through garbage bonfires, lit bottle rockets with cigars and hooted with laughter at anyone who dove for cover thinking they were gunshots
And in Quito the Venezuelan saltine salesman tried to get me to spring him from the dank chamber into which he’d been locked up for the night by an embittered hostess because his hissing chuckles, toothless leer and frazzled outbursts had finally started to terrify her—and though he somehow managed to pick the lock, vault two flights down to the courtyard and with garbled English and an evil laugh threaten to get a switchknife and spray the floor with her bile I never
really thought him a menace
And in Baños the list of titles an illiterate visionary and I compiled for the hotel we’d agreed to open in Madagascar amounted to
Evolve The Beard, Cancer Machine, The Steroid Void, Barbed-Wire Cornflake, Striped Fleas, Vodka Catnap, Donkey Harm, The Hispanic Sandman, The Poetic Avocado, Clowny Dragon Showtime Thing, and my own favorite, Awkward Slumber Parties, but it didn’t end there—the pop combo was to have been Thirsty Murders, the album Modern Sounds In Drunkenness and the feel-good single of the summer ‘Fuck Like A Pope,’ after which this faultless modern guru doled out strange and disturbed insights for the better part of a bottle, beginning with “if heaven is the destination then life’s the most important ride”—other gems included “genius is as genius denies,” “defining art is like defining rape,” “the only thing worse than being an idiot is being an intellectual,” “talk is as small as the people making it,” “when I hear the word ‘religion’ I reach for my revolver,” “‘the devil made me do it’ is no excuse for cautious optimism,”“the mark of the immature mind is the belief that one can change the world, and of the deluded mind the belief that one can save the world,” “the only thing worse than being an intellectual is being known as one,” “the only thing people think about is what other people think about them,” “the easiest way to maintain eternal solitude is simply never to respond when someone asks a stupid question,” “you know you’re in the wrong place when you feel like it could last forever,” “she sells seashells by the she’s a whore,” and finally “perhaps the only real wisdom is knowing when to keep your mouth shut,” and you never meet such kindred spirits as you meet in Ecuador
And in Canoa Moira the monkey-nosed, whale-obsessed forensic psychologist bore spectacular bruises from a four-and-a-half-hour lifetime on the run from her Andalusian toenail-crushing fiancé, and not only was the poor girl already on the verge of forgiving him but within days he’d tracked her down, in a matter of hours they’d been blissfully reunited, and she was all but certain it would never happen again—and I’d have told her the only time a woman is honest with herself is after she marries the wrong man but over the phone her father had already said it best:
‘You got beaten up by a salsa-dancing Spaniard who plucks his eyebrows?!?’
And in Puerto López the village idiot’s screeches of triumph after dousing the slugs on his walls to death with handfuls of salt unnerved me even more than the bodies on display
And in Montañita I went down to the beach thinking of how I’d already graduated from a pale shadow of whatever promise I may have had in extreme youth to a future as endless as the ways to resist reality—to king beast of an easily replaced jungle—to a destiny too idealized to sing the songs of experience—to a cardinal pariah desecrating his individuality past the bastard limit and meticulously cataloguing whatever elements aid dejection’s rise to power & service the infernal machinery of self-deceit—and to a mental grave robbery of recollections dating back from outskirt Seoul to Asia Minor to the Middle Kingdom to the Mekong Delta—

Where in Saigon Frederique the Mauritian bought me milkshakes, taught me blackjack and hustled me off to his brother’s charming colonial home to see if I was interested in a $35,000 cut of what the two of them hoped to swindle from an Indonesian millionaire’s widow who’d stiffed them on their share of the take from a recent casino scam, who instructed me in all the appropriate hand signals before the widow in question arrived with leather handbag overflowing with beedi cigarettes and bricks of U.S. hundred dollar bills to commence the game—soon enough I had all my cash and credit cards on the table, plagued by visions of crushed knuckles, sawn-off limbs and bamboo-cane beating, Frederique the Mauritian squeezing my knee to assure me the ruse was going sweetly, the woman convinced I must be an actor if I could afford to play in a game which, according to the tab sheet, had reached a payout in excess of $158,000, high enough for her to put an end to the fun for the time being and challenge us to round up a more impressive percentage of the funds than what we’d shown her thus far, but since my fortune was in foreign accounts I could put up neither my share nor the charity the brothers then demanded for their ailing matriarch, only enough to cab it out of there with enough dignity to spend the next four days dodging their phone calls as they tried to ‘complete the business,’ and though I wanted and needed that thirty-five thousand it came to naught
Where in My Tho all I can say is if you ever go to Vietnam alone and don’t return with at least one story you will never tell another soul then you weren’t really there
Where in Phnom Penh zombie homeless closed in on me in the dead of night as I cowered in an alley, foregoing the ambush in their Christmas spirit to see me home safely to the Belsen survivor’s muddled memories and brown toothpaste—then back out to whip the elephants in balmy yuletide moonlight and suffer a proposition near the quay by a haughty madame whose headshot of the grade-school quarry on offer that evening I knew immediately would never fully leave my mind, so to try to forget about it went into the first place I saw that looked friendly to those seeking non-magical food but even there the owner had the Lewis Carrolls
Where in Siem Reap I was stripped of my wallet by a pair of twinkle-eyed post-adolescents armed with nothing but their giggles, my ‘Nam experience not enough to deflect their half-price schemes in time, but at the end of the day a mandatory stepping stone to the eminent level of hard-won jungle wit and wisdom of the prematurely aged foreign denizens of the town who’d long ago come there for two weeks, were still there twenty years later and are there to this day for all I know or can tell, with graying hair and starburst eyes of ages, senile long before their time, imminent breakdowns a missed cigarette away, lashing out at the most trivial things with Inquisitional rage, tearing out hunks of their wives’ hair, throwing chairs at the grinning half-breeds whose births had anchored them, excusing themselves to my sad white self and offering to fund my descent into a similar ruin with one or more of the local virgins—and thus it was I came to spend that weekend the lone atheist in a venereal clinic
Where in Hong Kong the Siberian bashed in his knuckles playing gladiator in the plaza but refused to visit a hospital because he had no faith in Cantonese medicine, so we made him a cast from an empty packet of cigarillos while the guy smothered himself in bourbon and danced the Russkaya so he’d be able to behave that night
Where in Hangzhou we fled the absinthe house after its bored minders exposed the truth about our income bracket and caused the songfest to degenerate into smashed windows, airplane spins, bottle slapstick, butane shampoo and helpless shrieking in storm-torn streets to no local avail
Where in Shanghai I proposed marriage to a Malaysian go-go dancer after she on hands and knees cleaned every square inch of my apartment with a feather duster and didn’t even seem to mind when I accidentally got beef jerky and a jug of wine with the money she gave me to buy her grapes and water
Where in Suzhou a kiss-dodging Syrian ninja lectured me on Darwin’s Hawk Moth, Bloody Sunday, Jack & Jill, the Golden Rule, medieval weaponry, Katanga crosses, Dutch snow owls, the Scottsboro Boys, Paul Joseph Goebbels, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, King Suleiman the Magnificent, all manner of modern idiocy, and love hunted, found, lost, scorned and never recovered over mashed potatoes and shiraz at a bistro classy enough not to know how to behave or even how to order, then carted me back to her hostel for a nightcap and demanded to be fucked as if I’d paid for her
Where in Nanjing my date was slipped a note from the dour Belgian twosome next table over in the Greek diner via our waitress that read
YOU COULD DO BETTER in scrawly felt-tip pen and we wondered why she wouldn’t take our sangria orders!
Where in Beijing fallen monks in narrow alleys morphed from robot tai-chi to chicken dance to ballroom tango, fed us pomegranates and flung the peels at rats the size of dinner plates
Where in Zhujiajiao we threw frogs at gongs and Good Samaritans, and on return to the metropolis I dictated this message to the original madman and eternal inspiration—

Dear Alexander,
The country is a festering time bomb. Every species of outrage has been committed. Hardly a day goes by without taking in one of the legendary street brawls for which the Shanghainese are so celebrated. Several months ago I was struck by a callous brute on a motorbike who stopped to check the damage to his suspension but didn’t even turn around to see if I was conscious or not. My Malaysian princess hightailed it down to Penang and now I get intermittent messages from her with the most wonderfully freakish excuses at English I have yet to behold. I still can barely count to ten in this language and the constant games of charades are grating on my nerves. My medical condition has stabilized, although the pollution here might be what finally snuffs me out. In my apartment the power is held together by wood glue and cutting board, the water is never more than lukewarm and the heating system could only be envied by Eskimos. A close friend has expressed interest in committing rape upon a certain political heavyweight. Another wants to decamp to the Plain of Jars for a long summer “snorting a bunch of blow and writing a new screenplay.” I lost out on a potential journalism gig because I was too hung over to answer the phone and the guy never returned my calls.

It’s said that the world is a circus and that being an American gets you a front row ticket to the freak show. I disagree—the freak show, my friend, is here in the land of China, former Whore of the Orient, now Pearl of the Orient and surrogate hometown for the writer of these lines. May fortune smile on your endeavors, Alex, and keep evolving the beard…

At least I spared him the memories of Ankara, gloomy old Ankara where there was nothing to do but count the midgets, reignite the smoking habit and curse the grubby little man paid to look after me, the flaky dwarf with the motor coordination of a snowman and the halitosis of a jackal who for six hours on moving day had barricaded every single piece of furniture into one apartment room even though there were a total of seven, then hauled me over to the grocery store, took an hour and a half to fill a cart with traditional provisions, prepared an eight-course meal and with a nauseating glower
watchedmeeatit while he himself touched not a crumb, then insisted on first-hand guidance to the appropriate bus stop for work—next thing I knew I was trailing him through the children’s hospice across the street as he circled the emergency ward, interrogated orderlies for directions to the exit, blundered into every clinical nook and cranny and finally kicked in a side door to get us out, and after forty minutes of this labyrinthine fiasco the stop turned out to be half a block from my doorstep—then to both cement our newfound friendship and avoid ‘the bad people’ in the park who ‘only came out at night’ he not only refused every argument against leading me arm in arm through the frosty commons back to my new address but on arrival actually groveled to let him do it again
Or how in Istanbul I was chased by twelve squint-eyed fishermen from Galata Bridge to the palace gates to the squawking heretic’s vulgar crowds, from human bird calls to spice confetti to the shores of Marmara back to my frigid little corner of the slum extension in the drab depressing capital, all because I’d had the nerve to resist their dropped-lira shoeshine scam
Or how all over Anatolia if they said today they meant tomorrow, if they said tomorrow they meant next week, if they said next week they meant next month and if they said later on this month it would never happen
Or how in Pursaklar the pogrom calls bled over into crucifixion blueprints—
Or how in Pursaklar even in the circus they tried to convert me—
Or how in Pursaklar less than an hour after flying halfway around the world I was greeted with weak excuses for whatever reason management had shoehorned me into a branch office half an hour outside the city proper instead of in the modern downtown enclave they’d promised by a smirking mid-level administrator who assured me it was not an issue because with them it “happened all the time”—
Or how in Pursaklar they gazed at me as if beset by visions of my slight figure smothered in brimstone, boiled in oil, thrown into snake pits, force-fed rats, toads and spiders, dismembered alive or broken on the wheel, because I’d skipped out on the invitation to the bi-annual company water polo tournament—
Or how in Pursaklar I was unceremoniously dismissed after just four months with an impertinent electronic transmission instead of the courtesy of a face-to-face confrontation—
Or how in Pursaklar having endured all that the savages even docked a third of my last paycheck on the grounds of nonexistent unpaid bills—
Or how in Pursaklar I spent the last days pacing in circles, talking to the windows, begging for asylum from my own worst instincts and looking every inch a man just back from the brink of exile, cursing myself for having chosen this scrapyard promised land over any number of East Asian pussy paradises—and in the final endless hours fled a snowy five a.m. to customs, tried to get my metal knuckles past the guards but knew the game was up when they scowled and started throwing air left hooks and contraband forms, so very fitting to end this debacle as the latest addition to the international terrorist list, and what is it with countries not wanting me to leave?

Or how the night I entered Seoul the Aussie with the gay dogs waited for me
Or how in Daegu’s lone kebab shop the Pakistani swung machetes at our heads and hollered religious slurs in his native tongue while we cowered in the corner behind his children
Or how across Paju’s demilitarized horizons new galaxies, angelic choirs, and a harem of mutated rabbits formally confirmed the latest intestineless lord and master of the famished northern minions
Or how the depraved bastard charisma of the King of Muuido roped me into serving as organizational mastermind for his rash crusade to attain the rank of certified diamond inspector in Calcutta, decamp to West Africa for reasons of plunder, then glide down the Congo River for 22 days checking the haul for blemishes before cautiously selling them off at inflated profit margins in Hollywood and retiring once and for all from his ridiculous lifestyle having at last earned enough to subsidize his fundamental right to indolence
Or how the rum at the city casinos was too watery to do much more than keep us there
Or how I spent Christmas Eve 2009 vomiting bile and honey cake onto the bathroom floor
Or how after nearly a year of dragging myself up every morning physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and creatively devastated I’d become an empty shell of a foreign devil, treated like an inedible dog by all who mattered, within a sharp chopstick of slitting the country’s collective throat and convinced that maybe dying was something you did when sleep was no longer where you felt the happiest
Or how in Gyeongju’s heartless February chill I realized too late how many thousands had already drunk before me from the sacred spring on the Buddha hideout’s mountain path, and all but certain I was primed to contract tuberculosis, pneumonia, or at least a scowl that concealed a heart of gold, tried to ring the germs away with the monk bell—
Or how I left that evening wracked by fever and morbid premonitions, and on return to Seoul spent half a day in emergency, discharged once they’d determined it was indeed ‘very bad lung,’ and lay trembling for sixty hours on an early deathbed, gasping for oxygen with the same distressing gurgles as the hanging man, and in the same kind of vain—and dragged myself up the next day at sunrise taking twenty minutes to dress because when you’re that sick putting on socks is enough to make you collapse, then two city blocks unassisted the better part of an hour, fell to the floor in Cardiology murmuring ‘help me,’ and after preliminary tests wheeled in to see the doctor, hung my head and wept when he said pericarditis though no need to operate—then rolled out to the same emergency ward of three nights prior, in and out of reality with every other heartbeat, drifting through conscienceless states babbling ‘Korea just doesn’t want to let me go’—
Or how once moved to intensive care I was denied every request for morphine, for extra pillows, for water, for
anything until they finally brought it, then waking hours later begging for more to no avail—
Or how every day the morning shift would come in at six o’clock on the dot, fuck up the injection change, miss the vein and giggle, then fetch medical students who would come in just past eight-thirty, fuck up the injection change, miss the vein and giggle, and at high noon clear the way for the cardiovascular bigwig to marvel at their handiwork and countenance their exacting care, who herself would fuck up the punchlines of the knock-knock jokes, giggle at the hack translations and insist I eat my cornflakes—
Korean hospital food
Or how on top of all that I got a stomach infection and was taken down for a no-anaesthetic endoscopy, with one orderly to restrain each of my limbs while I thrashed and panicked and was ordered to resist the gag reflex—and as the specialist carefully removed the tube and commented, in faultless English,
‘now that wasn’t so bad, was it?’ he rose to the very top of the list of many to whom it brings a great deal of warmth into my life to imagine suffering—
And altogether I was held for seven nights and eight days in Hallym hospital intensive care—
And once able to walk again I remember wheezing my way into an elevator and seeing myself in its mirrors for the first time since admission, and the sight of the Dachau reject who gaped back will never leave me—
And spent the final night in a group room with a dozen other patients, whose relatives cranked game shows far beyond the witching hour while I sipped at lemonade and mentally had them drawn and quartered, shaken awake at dawn for a farewell X-ray but left to my own devices to find the proper room, then at last discharged into the care of celery sandwiches, stomach pills and a bag of sand from Malapascua Island with which the King of Muuido had returned from the Philippines as per my joke request of two weeks prior—
And sat for a week as an outpatient until they determined the heart had ‘re-normalized’ and that it was safe and sound for me to make the connection in Tokyo and fly out 21 hours before the tsunami—
And now all of Korea lies in state only for me, and Bucheon begs for the safe return of its rebels—

And Asia, I’ve bled enough for you!
Now Asia, flee from me the way I fled from you,
my heartbeat over your monsoons…

And so two years later in Cuenca with that in mind I set my sights on Vilcabamba’s valley of immortality, from cobblestones where fortune did everything but smile on me, from eight days shivering in faded hammocks, from damnable restlessness, from Andean skies, from the over-the-rainbow here-and-now, from where history repeats itself in paradise—O Ecuador give me more of you

And in Máncora Canadians fought sandstorms with domino blood bombs
And in Huanchaco an ancient Scotsman told me that for the most brilliant man in America I got ripped off a lot
And in Trujillo a blind man with an iron cane lashed out at total strangers with the kind of beating only those who dress their pets in clothes deserve
And in Chavín de Huantar the neurotic princess threw ice cream sandwiches and bloody socks at ticket-box attendants
And in Huaraz
I had to lose myself
In order to use myself
I had to blues myself
Into Peru

Now I have to fool myself
In order to soothe myself
Before I blues myself
Again to Peru

And you will deceive yourself
In order to free yourself
Before you leave yourself
Here in Peru

And you will deceive yourself
In order to please yourself
And you’ll never see yourself
With me in Peru

And my empty promises
Had once been autonomous
But now they are dominant
And now they are true

And my empty promises
Had once been eponymous
But now they’re anonymous
And now so are you
And in Cusco there were soggy motorcades, hazy rainbows and gods carved out of elephant tusks
And in Cusco there were so many broken, hopeless, reeking of dejection but none with a
really valid death wish
And in Cusco after 28 hours on the road watching the scenery mutate from desert to foothill to wasteland to wilderness to flooded town to Nazca glyph to the Sacred Valley spent three afternoons laid up on my dregs-of-wardrobe sickbed casting out these first feverish lines, suicidal as the crow flies
And in Písac the entire town of two thousand turned out with motley costumes, checkered grins, wart-nosed masks, ancestral hymns, bloody tuxedos, flailing hens and donkey races down the alleys, for the festival of whatever virgin’s time had come
And in Chinchero with a head full of insomnia suffered a luncheon next to doctoral candidate plankton who interested me only insofar as their capacity for slave labor
And in Machu Picchu the cameras came out quickest for the llama gangbang
And in Aguas we tied the restaurant manager to a chair and poured habanero down his throat until he suffocated, as much for the extortionate prices as for his nerve in
taxing us for the lasagna he’d had the moral deficiency to buy from the place down the street and try to pawn off as his own signature dish—then set the kitchen on fire, daubed ourselves in blackface and skipped about throwing hot-spring holy water and bags of guacamole in terrified village faces as collective revenge on the rube by demon proxy, excusing this behavior as symptoms of the mountain sickness bends, and you never meet such fellow adventurers as you meet in Peru

And then the return journey led back to Cusco in reality but to Central America in what was left of my mind—

Because on arrival in Costa Rica there was nothing like bullet holes, butterfly museums and buses with San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles plates to make me feel like I’d really left the West Coast
Because in Nicoya the grasshoppers just couldn’t organize
Because in Sámara Beach I lived for a month in a place called The Zoo, a pink closet of a bungalow surrounded by thickets of slime and infested with every cloud forest delicacy imaginable: geckos, spiders, ants, roaches, crabs and serpents indoors; roosters, hounds and swine outside—and after the shopkeepers heard I was living there I’d be refused entry to their stores and chased away as if I were a common pickpocket
Because in Liberia it took no more than cement walls, barbed-wire windows and a wooden school-desk to turn the most depressing room I’ve ever stayed at into a confessional
Because the Nicaraguan border crossing was stocked by guards with goat faces shorn of grins for three decades
Because in Granada on August 7th holiday a drove of bulls chased the whole city through the streets, bulls that had finally been turned loose after several riotous false starts, some roped off and dangled toward us in a feint, some unhinged as God intended, toppling water barrels and apple crates while teenagers swung from balconies to frustrate confrontation and police horses smacked delinquent dopers like myself to churchyard grounds
Because in León they held me in quarantine after I was clawed by rabid howlers one night following an experience too depraved to recount in these lines, for a graying tumor of a wound the clinicians pronounced gangrenous after one look but whose idea of a gringo fee was to schedule follow-up shots and thus oblige me to spend another week in dreary old León, where every day was a lifetime
Because in Managua I came face to face with the only man I’ve ever encountered of whom I was honestly frightened, a Colorado mercenary with the build of a galley slave, the eyes of a blind man’s black-eyed dog and a shadowy countenance forever haunted by the memory of the Kenyan schoolboy whose slashed gullet had been counted as his first kill, who cornered me into a café table for what I assumed would be an all-night recital of the kind of gun-running, opium-smuggling and Afghani border-skirmish accounts no sane man could ever devise but after just forty minutes he got up, waved his taco bag and left, and I have never seen his likes again—and above all I’ll never forget how when I pressed him for details on his earliest prison stretch he wagged his head, stroked his goatee and began “well, the parents
called it kidnapping, but…”
And because back in Houston while pivoting wearily in line with mossy stubble and filthy corduroys I was earmarked for random search by a sweat-addled eunuch with the kind of beady eyes, robotic earnestness and tyrannically conscientious search tactics that make you absolutely certain he’s not only about to blunder upon an ounce any minute but also drag confessions to the gulags, to My Lai, to World War Three out of you with nothing more than a penetrating stare, extra terror because I hadn’t checked my bag before I left, and then the subhuman had the gall to take out all my worldly possessions and leave them there on the conveyor for me to reorganize at my own curious leisure, and again, what is it with countries not wanting me to leave?

O Central America, no more of you!
Centroamérica, take as much from me as I took from you!

And so on return to Cusco as vicarious retribution on that paper Houston customs tiger I decided to get booted out of Saqsayhuaman national park by way of donkey abuse, partly to recover whatever native rebel manliness he’d taken but mainly because they had the same beady eyes
And in Arequipa the twitchy Spanish colonel’s niece stuffed my socks with chili peppers, doused my chest hair in lobster sauce and hauled me over to the monastery to pray for her guinea pigs not to die
And in Chivay a shaggy runt in Attila the Hun-style horned helmet tried to lure the condors in with aluminum pan pipes but even after the performance the only thing we saw was something we all concurred was just a really big bird, whatever it was
And in Puno we beat down doughnut-box barricades eager to exploit the edible-reed-eating aboriginals and their pitiless sea-bandit sidekicks for all they were worth, but to our dismay found only floating-island fires and Portuguese rosary fiends grinding out the Gentle Shepherd Prayer, babbling strange theories about a mustache and generally giving new credence to the idea that the most hideous sound on the planet is the collective laughter of those who think alike
And in Taquile piebald-belted elders in calfskin shawls trembled patiently for their turn in the dance of death, while over Bolivia the sun went down as if damned
And after 21 hours on the road to Lima with the sort of nightmares from which one is more unwilling than unable to wake had no energy to see the president but enough to sit up most of liberty day morning waiting to pay extra for the luxury of having my sleep disturbed by the nation’s most beneficent sadists, the cleaning staff—and since in Lima you get lost easily and it isn’t the kind of place where you can just go outside and have a good time doing nothing devoted three early evenings to wandering its foggy salt-flat of a shoreline, for as all this began with the sea here it ought to end—and spent the final midnight in a taxi pretending to bond with a veterinary technician from Amsterdam over her teddy bear mania, only to be informed at the airport that it would be 113
dollars to put my bag on the plane, flawed departure time no matter as the thing was delayed by an hour anyway, grounded in Florida all morning on the runway with a tubercular cough, only to at long last fly four hundred miles out of our way to avoid a hailstorm, and for the last time, what is it with countries not wanting me to leave?

Peru, give me what’s left of you!
Peru, dear Peru, come to me the way I came to you
Sudamérica, I bid you adieu…

& so after landing too late to meet my contact got the two-dollar express through Harlem but since the end of the line was nowhere hailed a cab to take me down to 52nd, knocked on a familiar door and was greeted warmly by old friends, handed out my Inca rocks and held their attention for as long as it took to start repeating all these stories and now here I am in America—

I am in America, where in Manhattan the only thing wrong with instability is that there’s not enough of it
I am in America where in San Francisco everybody’s too guilty of being human to be guilty of anything
I am in America, where in New Orleans you can be unknown, unheard and unread but never unloved—
Where in West Virginia you’ll never be called worse, by better people
Where in Louisiana you’re never far from Chinese restaurants or Bible gunpoint
Where in Washington the only ones not in it for the money are the racial realists
Where in California God’s as timeless as his absence
Where in Greenville the mental wards are at a total loss to explain my early release
Where in Charlotte they’re too busy proofreading suicide notes to pretend to sleepwalk
Where in the town of my birth the only thing worse than growing up to accept yourself is growing up to accept the way things are—

And here ends America, where my memories mean whatever it takes to erase them
And here ends America, now almost a human being but still no favorite of the gods
And here ends America, where I’ll “roam and ramble, and follow my footsteps, to the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts”—

America, where the voice of conscience is harder to hear than it is to kill
America, where I’ve yet to outlive my regrets
America, where the heart’s as good as the last place it left behind—O America!

O America, give me all of you
O America, O America
come to me
the way I came



2 thoughts on “Epic poetry from David Cicerone

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